Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

In the Kennedy assassination, it’s just the facts, ma’am...or not...

11/21/2013 2:24 PM

11/21/2013 2:25 PM

As I’ve been looking through the coverage of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I’ve been struck by several things:

1. Seemingly responsible news outlets run absolutely baseless stories.

2. 61 percent of the American people believe there was a conspiracy.

Let’s address the first point. I have just read, in the past hour, two stories published by USA Today and NBC News.com, both major and respected news organizations.

The USA Today story interviews a man named Craig Zirbel, who has written a book alleging that President Lyndon Johnson arranged to have Kennedy killed. This story is written without irony, and notes that Zirbel is sitting at a desk owned by Joseph McCarthy and owns a reproduction of the 1961 Lincoln Continental that Kennedy was murdered in, but that he’s trying to sell it.

Oh. OK.

USA Today, had it been at all circumspect, might have had an editor in the process who could have pointed out that the subject of the article might be a bit suspect himself. Let’s say that, for fun, the theoretical USA Today editor might have said, “Wow. This man you are about to interview who alleges that the 36th President of the United States was a political assassin might not be, you know, all that credible.”

Nope. That editor doesn’t work there. It’s OK at USA Today to say things like that, without any credible evidence whatsoever. The important thing is that USA Today got some space filled.

Over at NBC News.com, which used to have a news division that employed David Brinkley and Chet Huntley, they printed a story that alleges that President Kennedy was shot in the head by a Secret Service agent named George Hickey. The man who wrote this book, someone named Bonar Messinger, was sued by Agent Hickey, a man who was trying to protect the president under fire while riding in the follow-up car.

Agent Hickey is dead, so the suit died with him. Too bad, Agent Hickey. Now millions of Americans think, because of a man named Bonar Messinger, that you shot John F. Kennedy.

Have a nice day.

Now, Lyndon Johnson was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a political assassin. So, the surviving family of Lyndon Johnson, sorry about that wild accusation. It’s just the largest circulation newspaper in the United States making that accusation with absolutely no evidence to back it up.

Sucks to be you. Whatever.

To the other point of 61 percent of the American people thinking there was a conspiracy, let me also pass on some other recent poll numbers (as collated by The Atlantic Magazine):

• 37 percent think global warming is a hoax.
• 29 percent think aliens exist.
• 21 percent think an alien spacecraft crashed in Roswell, NM.

They also believe these gems, as collated by Foreign Policy Magazine:

• 71 percent think Iran has nuclear weapons.
• The average American thinks the United States spends 27 percent of its budget on foreign aid. Oh, it’s 1 percent. Sorry.
• 25 percent don’t know that the United States declared its independence from Great Britain.

Oh. I forgot. There was one more. In a CBS Miami story, the writer wrote a piece about one of the Dallas Police officers involved in the events of Nov. 22. The writer noted, twice, that Kennedy was killed in the cold Texas air.

It was 70 degrees.

But whatever.

No one cares what you print anymore.

About This Blog

Jack Ohman joined The Sacramento Bee in 2013. He previously worked at the Oregonian, the Detroit Free Press and the Columbus Dispatch. His work is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers by Tribune Media Services. Jack has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Foundation Award and the national SPJ Award, and he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and the Herblock Prize in 2013. Contact Jack at johman@sacbee.com. Twitter: @JACKOHMAN.


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